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Swee-Ling Levea, M.D. Answers Questions On Living Kidney Donation

Swee-Ling Levea, M.D. Answers Questions On: Living Kidney Donation

How does someone become a living kidney donor?

People who are interested in donating a kidney – either at UT Southwestern or another program – start by completing an online questionnaire for prospective donors.

I carefully review all applications, and if a prospective donor seems to be healthy, we schedule that person for blood work. If everything is okay there, our team – which includes a living donor coordinator – starts scheduling the person to come in for additional evaluation.

We’re usually able to schedule everything to be done in two days, which saves people – many of whom come from out of state – from having to come back again.

Prospective donors meet with our living donor advocates, who help them understand the donation process and manage their expectations; our dieticians, who counsel them about weight and nutrition; and our pharmacists, who help them understand the medication sensitivity they may experience with only one kidney.

They also meet with both me and the surgeon, and we go over the risks and expectations for the surgery. At the end of the day, our job is to make sure that donating a kidney is in their best interest both long- and short-term.

What are the short- and long-term risks of living kidney donation?

To put the risk of living kidney donation in perspective, the complication rate for gallbladder removal is actually much higher than for removing a kidney for living donation.

The short-term risks are basically the same as they are for anyone who undergoes any type of surgery. These include things such as bleeding risks, pain, and gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and constipation.

Long term, the risks have to do with the chance of donors developing kidney disease and/or requiring dialysis in the future. Although the risk is very, very small, it’s still slightly higher than it is for someone who didn't donate.

The goal is to minimize a donor’s risk for kidney disease in general, and for the most part, that means reducing the risk for complications in terms of kidney disease by limiting risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure in the future.

What is the surgery like for kidney donors?

The incision necessary to donate a kidney is very tiny and made on the donor’s side; in some cases, we’re able to reuse an old surgical incision so the donor doesn’t have another scar.

The majority of living kidney donors stay in the hospital for only 24 hours after the surgery and can then go home. Most are off pain medication within a week.

To whom do people typically donate a kidney?

Most people who wish to donate a kidney want it to go to someone they know. It’s usually a parent to a child, a child to a parent, spouses to each other, siblings, and – every so often – friends to friends or members of a church.

We also sometimes have people who want to donate to anyone on our wait list just because they want to do something to change someone else's life for the better.